If you want to save money, an uncontested divorce is your best route to dissolve the marriage in California.
An uncontested divorce means that both parties reach an agreement on the final terms of their divorce out of court. Such a legal procedure doesn't involve lengthy court battles and huge attorney fees.
One of the main advantages of uncontested divorce is the flexibility that comes with it. Depending on the individual circumstances, divorcing couples can choose different types of legal services and thus manage the cost of divorce.
So, let's consider the most common scenarios of an uncontested divorce and the relevant expenses in more detail.
Uncontested Divorce With Children
Generally, any couple can have an uncontested divorce, regardless of whether they have children or marital property or whether either spouse is seeking alimony. The only requirement is that the spouses can agree on resolving all these critical issues independently, without relying on a judge's decision.
The parties must create a Settlement Agreement concerning all property, debts, etc., and submit it for court approval. The judge typically approves the couple's contract as long as it is fair. The settlement becomes legally binding after the court issues a judgment and the divorce is finalized.
If the spouses have minor children, they also need to resolve child custody, child support, and visitation and memorialize these agreements by drawing up a Parenting Plan.
This Parenting Plan must cover legal (the parents' decision-making authority) and physical custody (the child's residence).
According to California law, there is a presumption that both parents are equally entitled to custody of the child. However, one of the most common custody arrangements is a combination of joint and sole custody. It means that one parent has sole physical custody of a child, and the other has visitation rights. At the same time, both parents usually share legal custody.
Besides, the court can order the spouses to take a parenting class offline or online in some cases (the fees typically range from $40 to $100). Parenting class is an educational program specially designed for divorcing spouses to understand better and cope with their kids' issues during divorce and ensure a successful family transition.
Although an uncontested divorce with children is still much cheaper than a litigated divorce, naturally, the need to address all of the above issues affects the total costs.
While the average cost of divorce is about $17,000 in California, it can reach $26,500 for couples with children (about 35% higher than the national average). Fortunately, spouses arranging an amicable divorce can reduce these expenses.
- Generally, attorneys' fees make up the lion's share of the costs. However, the more the spouses do to negotiate and prepare for the filing process on their own, the less they need to consult with an attorney. Family lawyers charge $150 to $900 per hour in California, so "Time is money."
- The next option to lower divorce costs is choosing divorce mediation instead of legal representation. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method where a neutral third party (a mediator) works with both spouses to help them reach a mutual agreement. For divorce mediation in California, typical total costs range from $3,000 to $8,000.
- And, if the spouses have made all the necessary arrangements, they can prepare for the filing on their own, as Pro Se litigants. Although such a DIY divorce approach is quite risky (even a single mistake in divorce forms and the court may reject the paperwork, delaying the case), it is the cheapest option. Of course, the spouses should be well aware of California Family Law and their rights and responsibilities to select all the necessary child-related documents and fill them out correctly. And if they do not want to grapple with paperwork independently, they can use low-cost online divorce services.
The Cost of Uncontested Divorce Without Children
If the spouses do not have children together, an uncontested divorce process can be even more straightforward. They only need to create a Settlement Agreement and file the Petition and other relevant divorce forms with the court.
Besides, California law provides for a Summary Dissolution. It is a simple way to get divorced for couples who meet the following requirements:
- The length of the marriage is less than five years;
- The spouses do not have children;
- The spouses do not own or lease real estate;
- The spouses do not have huge assets (more than $47,000 together and separately);
- Neither spouse is seeking alimony;
- The spouses can agree on how to divide the property.
Like a regular uncontested divorce, Summary Dissolution includes the following steps:
- reaching an agreement about the final terms of the divorce;
- selecting and completing all the necessary divorce papers;
- filing the paperwork with the Court Clerk's Office;
- paying a filing fee;
- and getting a final divorce judgment signed by a judge (the divorce can become final only six months after filing the documents).
To apply for a Summary Dissolution, the spouses file a Joint Petition. In a regular uncontested divorce, the case is initiated by one spouse (the plaintiff). Further, the plaintiff must "serve" the other spouse with copies of divorce papers to notify them about divorce. Thus, a regular uncontested divorce takes longer since the service process requires some time and effort.
As for divorce costs, Summary Dissolution is the cheapest divorce option as the spouses can usually arrange it without legal aid. In some cases, the divorce expenses can be limited to the filing fee ($435 in California) plus the online divorce service fee (if the spouses would like to prepare all the divorce forms as soon as possible).
Uncontested Divorce Cost Without Lawyer
Whether a regular uncontested divorce or Summary Dissolution, California laws do not oblige divorcing spouses to be represented by a full-scope divorce lawyer.
Instead, the spouses may resort to alternative dispute resolution options, use unbundled legal services, online divorce paperwork preparation websites, or obtain all the necessary information from the free self-help guide provided by the Judicial Branch of California website.
In any case, divorce without a lawyer, also known as do-it-yourself divorce, is the cheapest option.
However, to avoid all the complications and pitfalls of a DIY divorce, the spouses should be prepared to take full responsibility for all the stages of the divorce process, from negotiations to finalizing their divorce. Thus, they should be sure they meet the state’s residency requirements and know civil procedure rules covering the process, family laws, court rules, and more.
In addition, it is worth noting that the divorce forms the spouses must file with the court can vary from county to county and depending on each couple's unique circumstances. To prepare all the necessary divorce papers without a hassle, the spouses may use an online divorce service at a reasonable price, starting at $139 in California.
How Much Does a Lawyer Cost for Uncontested Divorce
The average lawyer's fees for an uncontested divorce are generally the same as for contested cases, ranging from $150 to $900 per hour. However, as uncontested divorce usually requires less time and fewer consultations, the total costs are significantly less.
Besides, many California law firms provide flat fees for uncontested cases. This term means that instead of paying an hourly rate, the client can save money and make a one-time payment. These fixed fees start at $1,500 per case but may vary depending on whether the spouses have children and other circumstances. The average flat fee for preparing documents in uncontested cases is $3,500 for divorce without children and $4,500 to process a divorce with children.
Uncontested Divorce Online
Online divorce is an affordable and straightforward way to handle the paperwork and complete all the uncontested divorce forms quickly.
Typically, online divorce services start at around $139. They do not provide legal advice for that price but take on the paperwork issues, which is crucial for an uncontested divorce or Summary Dissolution case.
Even the simplest divorce case requires proper paperwork. Still, legal terminology and specific rules on how to fill out each of multiple blank forms can be tricky for a person without relevant background or experience.
Online divorce makes things easier and allows you to save time, as all you have to do is complete an online questionnaire to provide your case details. Then, based on these answers, the relevant forms will be provided with step-by-step instructions. Thus, the user can work with their documents wherever and whenever is comfortable for them, without a fuss. Once the questionnaire is completed, the ready-to-sign divorce forms are usually available for download in two business days.